In the present study the accumulation of protease resistant prion protein (PrPres) in scrapie-infected neuroblastoma cells (ScN2a cells) was shown to be dependent on culture conditions. The highest levels of PrPres were found in slow growing cells. Further increases in PrPres accumulation were observed in ScN2a cells treated with retinoic acid, a compound that is associated with neuronal differentiation. The effects of retinoic acid were dose-dependent with a maximal effect at 200 ng/ml. A similar increase in PrPres was observed in another prion-infected cell line, scrapie-mouse brain (SMB) cells, treated with retinoic acid while retinoic acid increased the amount of PrPC in non-infected cells. Other drugs reported to cause neuronal differentiation, such as phorbol esters, did not increase the PrPres content of ScN2a cells. The survival of retinoic acid-treated ScN2a cells co-cultured with microglia was significantly reduced when compared to untreated ScN2a cells and an inverse correlation was demonstrated between the PrPres content of cells and their survival when co-cultured with microglia. The production of interleukin-6 by microglia cultured with retinoic acid-treated ScN2a cells was significantly higher than that of microglia cultured with untreated ScN2a cell
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